There are guys in this business - artists I mean - that are so good and versatile and talented that their work positively boggles my mind.
Jose Luis Garcia Lopez is an amazing artist. And he's one artists often cite as being incredible and most readers don't even know who he is. As far as I know, Garcia Lopez has had few regular assignments - he tends to go from one special project to another. You may know him from his run on "Atari Force" or remember him as the guy that followed George Perez on "Teen Titans" for a handful of issues before Eduardo Barreto began his run or possibly from the Batman/Hulk team up. Jose composes pages in an imaginative, engaging fashion, sure, and his backgrounds are impeccable as well, but he can draw the human form from absolutely any angle and make it seem effortless and convincing. He's one of those guys that folks in the business are in absolute awe of and having him follow you on any series must be the most crushing blow to your ego that an artist could possibly suffer. You could struggle with anatomy, sweat over every rock and plant and animal and car and in one issue, Jose would show you up as if you were a rank amateur. Yeah, he may not put down as many lines on a face or render the hell out of a pile of debris, but his command of the page makes every panel a mini-masterpiece. Cars, tanks, guns, spaceships, creatures big and small and everything in between are masterfully drawn. He doesn't attempt to hide behind a cloud of rendering lines or baffle you with other tricks of the trade that mask poor drawing - he just draws and draws beautifully.
John Buscema was a consummate craftsman. He's another stellar artist well worth your attention. Big John had a facility like few in the business. This guy wrote the book on drawing comics (aided and abetted by Stan Lee, natch) and his work was a veritable textbook on how to draw comics. His storytelling was always crystal clear and flawless. His figure work was astounding. He seemed to be able to draw any animal from any angle and genuinely understand how these critters were thrown together. There were times when his work seemed uninspired - as though he was simply going through the motions - but regardless his capability was never in doubt. And when John's work was inspired, it showed! He had runs on the "Silver Surfer," "Conan," "Tarzan" and the "Avengers," which were breathtaking to behold! This guy had command of his craft like few in the business.
Claudio Castellini is like Garcia Lopez meets John Buscema on steroids. The few projects that he's illustrated are packed with energy and excitement. It can be a bit overblown at times but his work is incredible.
Alan Davis is another guy that simply knows his stuff. His figure work is impeccable and all the rest. His work keeps getting better, too, which is pretty astounding under the circumstances.
Bryan Hitch is another phenomenal talent. Inspired by Davis to begin with, Bryan has blossomed into an amazing talent.
Marc Silvestri is another Buscema-inspired artist that can draw circles around most everybody. He was the best artist of the original Image creators and he continues to be an incredible talent when he applies his pencil to paper.
Okay, clearly I'm running out of superlatives and adjectives at this point. I didn't intend to shortchange all the folks who followed Jose Luis Garcia Lopez but there were only so many ways I could say, "Man this guy @#$%ing rules" without resorting to saying, "Man this guy @#$%ing rules!"
But it's not all about good drawing. There are scores of artists who, on a purely technical level, are vastly inferior to the gentlemen listed above but who have other things to offer in terms of design, storytelling, rendering or sheer power.
And often it's not the best artist that garners the praise of the fan on the street, but rather those that pave their pages with a veritable layer or lines, or clog them with a mountain of clutter. Some artists render the hell out of a person and put so many lines and so much crosshatching in place that you don't really notice how poorly their figures are constructed.
I've gotten into heated debates with others in regard to artists that cram their pages with stuff, but don't actually draw all that well and often those I'm debating simply don't know enough about anatomy or perspective or basic drawing to be able to see past the detail and look at what's being buried below.
And there's nothing particularly wrong with liking an artist's work for any number of reasons. Some of my favorite artists aren't outstanding on a technical level, but man can they deliver the goods when it comes to knocking my socks off!
And it's not always about drawing ability. There are outstanding artists all over the globe that simply can't grasp the intricacies of storytelling. They can't compose a page, which is clear or draw it in such a way that a reader's eye is guided in the right direction. It's not as simple as it may look from the sidelines.
Choosing the best panel is not always an obvious decision. The artist has to determine what the important action is and make it clear what's going on while directing the reader in the right direction for the panel that follows. Some artists whose work is absolutely gorgeous to look at get caught up in distracting details that impede the reading experience rather than enhance it. I'm sure you've experienced this at times as a reader where you have to flip back a page or two to catch a detail that you missed on your first pass through the pages. If you don't immediately understand what's going on, it takes you out of the story and that is never the goal.
There's an artist (whose name I won't mention here) that is fairly well respected, but who is often too clever for his own good. He'll sit down and figure out a setting from every angle and then, in the pages that take place there, he'll show off by rotating the camera around and let you see the room from multiple angles. But those shots do not always best serve the story. If it means seeing the back of a character's head or zooming in and out at inappropriate times, there's nothing gained by showing off. Is the room the star of the book? Is showing glasses on a desk from multiple angles enhancing the storytelling and the reading experience or a needless distraction?
Others don't bother to set the scene at all. With no establishing shot, how are we the readers to know where a given event is taking place? Then again, that's not always important. In a humor strip, for example, the specific location is not always a key element in understanding the joke being told. Figuring out what is and is not important is a big part of storytelling.
One artist may break up a page into nine panels. Another might combine elements and tell the same story in five. Another still might make specific small actions, smaller inset panels, leaving more room for more important actions or characters. Does Daredevil, reaching for his Billy club, require a sixth of a page or a tiny sliver of a panel, showing only his hand reaching for it? If it's a subtle action, which is supposed to go undetected by the villain, perhaps the latter is the best call.
Often artists will get so caught up in drawing that spectacular jerk shot that they'll forget what it is that they're supposed to be doing - telling a story.
(At this point, I'm going to digress for a second to define the term "jerk shot." Todd McFarlane coined the term. A "jerk shot" is one of those big splashy pictures of a character that could be cut out and plastered on a T-shirt. It's one that has readers saying, "Aw, cool!" The reason it's called a "jerk shot" is because it gets fans excited. It does not mean that it's a shot that "jerks like" as it has been erroneously reported. It's a shot that makes fanboys figuratively "cream their jeans.")
For example - it would be a mistake to show the villain getting defeated in a postage stamp-sized panel in order to be able to free up space to draw a nice shot of the good guy posing for the camera later on. Ideally, the artist should be thinking of what method of composing a panel or page or book best serves the story. Comics are telling a story, after all. The artist wants to make the book visually compelling, to be sure, and jerk shots help a book get a good flip (in other words - it makes it so that something catches your eye as you're flipping through a comic book at your local newsstand or funnybook store), but jerk shots should not impede a story but rather enhance areas that need added excitement or emphasis.
The illustrators I cited in the offset of this column are all incredible draftsmen and solid storytellers. Their work may not always be flashy (although it often is), but you're not going to get lost or confused perusing their pages. Give one of there books a gander and see for yourself. These guys are good.
But that's just one fan's opinion. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.